DURHAM, N.C. – The second-seeded Duke Blue Devils ended their season with a 74-65 loss to the seventh-seeded DePaul Blue Demons in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament played at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday.
As valiantly as Duke (28-7) worked to stay close to the Blue Demons (29-6) throughout the game, they could never establish the pace and tempo they needed to play with in order to win.
They ended their season much sooner than they wanted to and the pain on Haley Peters, Elizabeth Williams, and head coach Joanne P. McCallie’s faces showed it during the postgame press conference.
Duke was beat by a hardworking DePaul team that played a relentless full-court press and utilized its outside shooting to establish and maintain enough of a margin on the scoreboard to beat the Blue Devils on their home court, snapping their 19-game NCAA Tournament win streak in Cameron.
Expecting to be denied any exceptional opportunities in the paint against a much taller lineup, DePaul relied on its long range shooting ability to defeat the ninth-ranked team in the country.
Megan Rogowski (22 points, 4 rebounds), Megan Podkowa (18 points, 5 rebounds), and Brittany Hrynko (14 points, 6 assists) combined for a 14-of-23 performance beyond the arc that left the Blue Devils reaching.
They weren’t making shots just outside the three-point line – they were making 30-footers.
While Duke’s offense focused on scoring a majority of its points in the paint, the double-digit contributions from five different players led by a double-double performance from Elizabeth Wiliams (12 points, 10 rebounds) followed by Tricia Liston (11 points, 7 rebounds), Haley Peters (11 points 6 rebounds), Ka’lia Johnson (11 points, 5 rebounds) and Oderah Chidom (10 points, 2 rebounds) still wasn’t enough.
An intense and swarming defensive performance by the Blue Demons caused Duke to turn the ball over 21 times and was focused on minimizing Liston’s ability to score.
While Liston still posted points, she never looked comfortable shooting the ball.
She was rarely allowed to get open looks and was often surrounded by two and sometimes three defenders once she gained possession of the ball.
“I think they were very aggressive defensively,” Peters said.
“They were really up on top of our ball handlers and we didn’t handle it very well.”
Both teams tested themselves early from long range as the first three baskets scored between them were made from beyond the arc.
Leading 6-3, DePaul added another few baskets and led 10-4 with 13:18 remaining in the opening half.
After taking a timeout, the Blue Devils switched into a zone defense which reaped some benefit early on, but eventually could not account for the Blue Demons’ exceptional three-point shooting that improved from 30 percent by halftime to 56 percent in the second half.
“Just a great basket basketball game,” McCallie said.
“DePaul is a super team, and they shot really well from the three-point line, especially in the second half. They are very, very good, and I am just really proud of our team’s effort and fight and resolve.”
As the Blue Demons’ lead increased to 25-12 with six minutes to play in the opening half, Williams began a 12-2 Duke rally that cut it down to only a three-point margin of difference at halftime.
“It was a lot of pressure, not only on the court but just mentally trying to stay focused and stay together with one another,” Hrynko said.
“I thought we did a pretty good job with that.”
As Duke pulled to within one point at the 18:43 mark in the second half, DePaul struggled some from field.
Richa Jackson gave Duke its first lead of the game, 28-27, shortly after but the Blue Demons increased their defensive pressure in their midcourt trap, caused more turnovers, and allowed them to regain the advantage again.
Rogowski pushed DePaul’s lead up to seven, 35-28, hitting one of her six three-pointers in the game, and forced the Blue Devils to go through the painstaking process of working to catch up again.
It was a process that repeated itself for the remaining 16 minutes of the game, and one which became increasingly futile.
The Blue Devils couldn’t recover and gain enough traction and momentum to overcome the deficit that DePaul kept in front of them.
As the final minute of play counted down with DePaul going to the free throw line intermittently, Duke continued to fight to regain possession, but the reality of the situation finally set in.
The Blue Devils’ season had ended.
“A season is a lifetime, no doubt,” McCallie said.
“We talked about that in the locker room and I just hope they take these lessons on in life. Life is just not perfect, you know, a lot happens in life. They’re young kids, and they should think that all is possible in the world but they should also be prepared for difficulties. The way they handled those difficulties this year was just truly an inspiration to me, and to our staff, and they were just so much fun to be around. In the darkest moments, being at practice with them was the way we got through it. I hope that they can all learn, you know those seniors have opportunities that are coming to them, things that they can work for, and I hope that everybody learns how hard it is—this stuff is hard. It’s not automatic, it’s not something that should be treated that way, it takes a lot of hard work to do special things, and sometimes a little luck too.”